News briefs

Qwest gets public money to keep call center open

On Aug. 20, 110 union employees lost their jobs at Qwest’s Small Business Care Center in Portland. As part of a company-wide consolidation, the center closed and the work was transferred to Denver and other cities.

But another group of Qwest workers — 245 union workers at the Consumer Call Center in Portland — were relieved in July to hear they’ll be keeping their jobs. Qwest had earlier announced it was thinking of closing the facility, where workers answer calls from residential customers in 14 states. Instead, the telephone company decided to add 145 new jobs at the call center.

A key factor in the reversal, the company acknowledged, was a training grant of up to $3,000 per employee awarded by the State of Oregon and the City of Portland. In addition, public money through the Portland Development Commission will pay for new equipment and improvements to Qwest’s downtown Portland facility. The subsidy amounts to $600,000 in tax dollars, according to one estimate. Qwest, the upstart telecom firm that bought Baby Bell US West in 1999, had operating revenues of $14.2 billion in 2003.

Of the laid-off Small Business Care Center workers, two dozen applied for the new positions in the consumer call center, and one worker applied to transfer to Denver. Others will retire.

“That still leaves a whole bunch of them who are going to be out of a job, out on the street looking for work in their mid- to late-40s,” said Madelyn Elder, president of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7901.

Meanwhile, about 45 workers in Qwest’s coin-operated telephone division officially lost their jobs Aug. 4 as the operation passed into the hands of FSH Communications, a new company created to buy the money-losing division, which services pay phones in prisons and public places. The transition will be completed Aug. 23.

The new non-union company is rehiring some of the old employees, Elder said, but the workers are taking $4 to $6 an hour pay cuts.

Elder said CWA has contacted the company owner Don Goens to let him know the union intends to organize the new company.


Nite Hawk Restaurant lands on labor’s boycott list

The Nite Hawk Restaurant and Lounge has been placed on the Do Not Patronize/Unfair List of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council.

The popular North Portland restaurant and watering hole is owned by a retired member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and has a strong blue-collar union clientele.

But during negotiations for a successor agreement with HERE/UNITE Local 9 (Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees), the restaurant seems to have turned on its 17 bartenders, servers, cooks and dishwashers. Employees have already voted down one proposal and the restaurant has submitted its “last, best and final offer.”

“They want to cut medical benefits and put employees in an unaffordable company health plan,” said Jeff Richardson, financial secretary-treasurer of Local 9. “They also want to get rid of the pension and seniority language. Their proposal was absolutely unacceptable.”

To date a strike has not been called, but Richardson said that could happen very soon.


Local 11 to picket DeLon Auto in Salem Sept. 3

SALEM — Office and Professional Employees Local 11 will hold an informational picket line at DeLon Downtown Auto Center, 695 Liberty St. NE, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3. More than three months ago, 14 clerical and customer support workers at the auto dealership voted to join the union. DeLon has yet to come to the bargaining table. Meanwhile, one union supporter, a 20-year employee, has been fired, a water cooler was removed from the office, survelliance cameras have been installed and parking spaces of bargaining unit members have been changed, said Debbie Sluyter, secretary-treasurer of Local 11.

The union has filed several unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board.

Sluyter is asking for help walking the informational picket line. For more information, contact Sluyter at 503-257-6691 or toll-free at 800-547-8902.


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